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5.0 out of 5 stars Another dimension of Orwell's "1984", 15 Jan 2013
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For several years now I have been researching, on and off, the history of George Orwell's "1984". After an original avalanche of facts and details that lasted for a couple of years, as time passed by, the informational air I was breathing became thinner and thinner. It was getting more and more difficult to find new angles, biases and small biographical "trivia" that sometimes change the whole picture radically.
And then I came across this little book of memories about Sonia Brownell, Orwell's widow. It turned out to be a real feast. I just started to read it, and after only a few pages, it felt immediately like I was back in my very early days of research, every chapter had something new and exciting to offer. I loved every single moment of the few hours it took me to complete the first reading. My first reaction: this book should have been written, published and circulated as widely as possible a long time ago.
Of course, those who don't have a love affair with Orwell's heritage may disagree. But those of you who do -- and if you haven't yet -- go and buy this book. It's most definitely worth it. There will be a delightful bonus too: you'll be introduced to a gem of a charmingly free-spirited girl! Because that's what Sonia Brownell had always been.

P.S. And yes, all praise possible must go to Hilary Spurling for being so remarkably loyal to her friend!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Widow Orwell, 25 Feb 2013
P. Ronayne "Pablo" (Liverpool UK) - See all my reviews
Despite some fairly aggressive attacks on Orwell's Widow by biographers down the years Hilary Spurling has produced a sympathetic and well researched work that tries to put the record straight about Sonia Orwell. However, I'm not sure that she fully succeeds in turning things around for her; for me there are still some questions to be answered.

Sonia Brownell during the late 1930s became a kind of artistic groupie around writers and painters of the Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury set. Many actually painted her, enchanted by her peaches and cream beauty and obvious intelligence. Later she worked for Cyril Connolly and Peter Watson at 'Horizon' magazine where she proved to be more than just eye candy for visiting writers and associates, virtually running the office during and after World War 2.

She married George Orwell on his death bed at the end of 1949 just as the previously penniless author struck gold with the massive success of Animal Farm and with 1984 about to explode on the 1950s and beyond. Sonia was labelled a gold-digger by many for this seemingly odd act. I personally believe this to be unfair if not altogether untrue. What the author does develop is the fact that she may well have married Orwell on the rebound from a passionate love affair with the married French writer Maurice Merleau-Ponty. This may or may not be true yet later she married an openly gay man who also happened to be pretty wealthy. That marriage, somewhat predictably did not last and we are left wondering just what Sonia was all about.

My own view is that at times she embarked on certain lifestyle choices that left her feeling terribly guilty and sometimes suicidal. Her way of dealing with these issues was to make penance in some way to the needy, the ill and persecuted around her-perhaps a legacy of her Catholic upbringing. So Sonia seemed to swing between sinner (of sorts) and saint (of sorts) This is not a puritanical judgement, far from it, just an observation.

This argument may be re-enforced by looking at the physical changes in Sonia over a fairly short space of time. From the ravishing beauty on her last day at 'Horizon' to the chubby, bog-eyed and bewildered woman less than a decade later who hacked off all her hair. Obviously lifestyle, alcohol and loss all played its part and we see a woman on a long road of decline and confrontation. Its easy to feel sorry for her as her looks and sanity seem to depart rapidly. Maybe those who have been so critical over the years have been unfair and when she needed support most she should have got it. She didn't and ended up broke and bitter, dying at the relatively young age of 62. Perhaps her greatest achievement was bringing Orwell's essays, letters and other writings to a wider public. For this alone we should be grateful.
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The Girl from the Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwell
The Girl from the Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwell by Hilary Spurling (Paperback - 5 May 2004)
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